It never ceases to amaze us at Wavelength how many people don’t know how to define brand. People that don’t work in marketing. People that work in marketing. People that work in brand. Guilty as charged. The worst of the bunch is definitely the design community where brand-is-a-logo is the prevailing logic. Utterly perplexing and depressing. How can this be after all these years? At Wavelength we think a brand is:
A construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values.
Yes it’s a bit complicated and involved. Brands are complicated and involved. It fits. This is how we’ve arrived at this definition….
When defining something you have to be clear on what it is and is not. A brand is not a logo. Take away the logo and nothing is there. You have no brand. Design guys – please tell me you see the light? This is a shockingly simple statement yet if we had received £1 for every time we have used that sentence I would be typing this blog from my villa in theSeychelles. Lovely thought….
So what is a brand? It’s lots of things. Branding Prof Leslie de Chernatony (and colleagues) developed a helpful taxonomy which considers brand from input, output or evolutionary perspectives.
From an input perspective i.e. something the marketer ‘creates’, a brand is:
– A legal instrument e.g. ‘™’ or ‘®’)
– A logo e.g. ISO standard etc.
– A company e.g. British Airways
– An identity system (how the organisation wants to be perceived by stakeholders) e.g. Body Shop and being ethical.
– A shorthand device that facilitates the recall of brand benefits e.g. McDonald’s golden ‘M’
– A risk reducer due to brand familiarity e.g. Wells Fargo insurance
– A value system where the brand is a cluster of functional and emotional values.
– A vision which provides brand direction, focus and purpose.
American Marketing Association definitions (developed in the 1960’s and more recently in 2009) tend to focus on the first two areas – trademark and logo. This oversimplifies brand. Brand name, term, symbol etc., play an important role in brand. They’re not a brand per se. They’re manifestations of the emotional and functional bond brands look to develop – the key to branding. It’s a subtle but important distinction.
The concept of “values” is important. Values inform behaviour and act as an emotional ‘common denominator’ for the bond or connection a brand develops with its stakeholders. Aligned values are crucial if brands plan to make an emotional connection.
From an output perspective i.e. a brand exists in the consumers’ minds, brands can be considered as:
– The image in the consumers’ minds e.g. Singapore Airlines and an exceptional flying experience.
– A way of adding value to the purchase e.g. AMEX and airport services
– A personality e.g. Nike and competitive sport / winning.
– A relationship between the brand and its stakeholders e.g. HSBC your local bank.
The idea of a relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders gives rise to mutual expectations being formed between the brand / organisation and its stakeholders. Brands are not human. They cannot reciprocate as part of a relationship as people do. We think it’s better to use consider this as a ‘connection’ or ‘bond’.
The evolutionary perspective regards brands as developing from an input to an output perspective. Brands are a fluid and dynamic. They ‘evolve’ and ‘develop’ from a brand owner to consumer focus. The brand moves from being something the brand owner does to the consumer to something the consumer does with the brand to express their ‘self’ as part of an iterative dialogue. Witness the rise of social media.
Beyond these three perspectives it’s useful to consider brands as promises. With most brands, especially services, a promise is being bought in the form of happiness, safety, self worth etc. You don’t know if you’re going to be happy until you’ve paid your money with a service. If you’re buying a car you can test drive it. Service brands don’t have this luxury. This makes service branding especially challenging. The promise has to be right and consistently delivered against.
So, how can we define brand as we do? Well, we consider brands as: a construct i.e. something that is perceived, which helps with the delivery of brand-related promises made by the seller / corporation to its stakeholders (focusing on consumers is too narrow); facilitating the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller / corporation its stakeholders; being guided by functional and an emotional element. Combining these points leads to our definition of brand where a brand is a construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values.
It’s kind of complicated. But so is branding. Design guys….can you see why a logo ≠ brand now….?
The development of this definition is based on Dr. Darren Coleman’s PhD thesis which Professor Leslie de Chernatony and Dr. George Christodoulides supervised. Their contribution to the development of this definition should be acknowledged.